Not all Democrats are climate heroes

As the Climate Cabinet Score analysis shows, Democrats are overwhelmingly better than Republicans when it comes to voting for climate action. But in the face of the climate crisis, being better than a Republican isn’t good enough.

This blog post gives some striking examples of how not all Democrats are stepping up to the plate. Our scorecard can show you which are, and which aren't.

We’re living in the midst of a crisis. The UN recently released a monumental report calling climate change “Code Red for humanity,” and this summer, we’ve been slammed with one natural disaster after another, from coast to coast. As a society, we’re at a point where the obstacles to action are not scientific or economic, but political. 

This is not news. Republican-controlled statehouses across the US are passing fossil fuel subsidies and blocking clean energy bills; whereas blue states are taking big steps forward to advance the clean energy transition. 

The Climate Cabinet Scorecard confirms an overwhelming and, unfortunately, unsurprising trend: partisanship is the number one predictor of whether legislators are voting for climate action -- or working to block it. We’ve written about that previously, and we know that Democratic majorities are essentially a precondition for passing climate policy. For example, as soon as the Virginia House of Delegates flipped to a Democratic majority in 2019, they immediately passed a suite of bold climate policies including a 100% renewable energy standard and clean energy investments in frontline communities. 

But that’s not the whole story. While the most obvious headline is that Republicans are failing us on climate, Democrats are by no means unanimously fighting for our future.

This bin chart shows that Climate Cabinet Scores are overwhelmingly correlated with partisan affiliation. Democrats tend to have higher Climate Cabinet Scores than Republicans; but there is important variation within parties. 

Not all Democrats are fighting for our future

Far too many Democrats cast regressive climate votes -- and the Climate Cabinet Scorecard demonstrates which Democrats are holding us back from the bold policies we need to swiftly bring about an equitable clean energy economy, protect and invest in communities, and build resilience. 

Climate Cabinet Action’s recent release of Climate Cabinet Scores for state legislators in 25 states analyzed voting records of 1587 Democrats and 1782 Republicans. While over 40% of Democrats received scores of 100 and the average Democratic Scores is 91 -- the range drops all the way down to a pitiful 13. Four Democrats in our analysis have scores lower than 25, while 29 Democrats have scores lower than than 50. 

Here are lowlights from a few states, in which significant numbers of Democrats received failing or subpar grades due to votes on truly regressive bills that will perpetuate fossil fuel production, harm the health of communities, and hold back the clean energy transition. 

Texas

In Texas, the average Democrat’s score is 76, and a full 66% of Texas Democrats have scores below 80. The majority of Texas Democrats are receiving below a “C” grade on climate change. That is simply not going to cut it -- especially when they’re voting on bills that subsidize oil and gas, prevent citizens from holding polluters accountable, and block the development of solar.

This chart shows the breakdown of Texas legislators' climate scores. 0 is on the left, and 100 is on the right. Red shows Republican legislators and blue shows Democrats. Grey is no-data.

Here are a couple bills that too many Democrats were on the wrong side of in Texas:

  • In 2019, 29 House Democrats and 9 Senate Democrats voted for HB2826, which requires local governments to get permission from the Attorney General before hiring attorneys -- making it harder for cities to sue polluters.
  • 6 out of the 12 Senate Democrats in 2019 voted for SB2232, a bill to study the effects of eliminating federal renewable energy subsidies, which would have harmed wind and solar. 

  • Also in 2019, 47 House Democrats voted for HB2545, a subsidy to the oil industry that would have incentivized oil and gas companies to dump wastewater into rivers and aquifers. 

And Democrats aren’t just voting the wrong way. This year, Democrats Rep. Joe Deshotel, Rep. Ron Reynolds, and Rep Mary Perez even introduced HB17, a bill to ban building electrification requirements -- an existential threat to Texas’s ability to power buildings on the wind and sun. 36 Democrats in the House and 2 in the Senate voted for this bill. 

Why might this be the case? Here’s one clue: Texas Democrats running for state house and state senate have received over $1.5 million in political donations from the oil and gas industry since 2018. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators have considered some truly regressive policies over the past few years, detrimental to both our climate and our democracy. 30% of Pennsylvania Democrats received Climate Cabinet Scores below 80 despite voting on a set of extremely harmful bills.

This chart shows the breakdown of Pennsylvania legislators' climate scores. 0 is on the left, and 100 is on the right. Red shows Republican legislators and blue shows Democrats. Grey is no-data.

For example: 

  • In 2020, over half of all Democrats in the House and Senate (68 out of 114) voted for HB732. This bill was a blatant handout to the fracking industry -- locking the state into 25 years of tax credit subsidies to petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturing facilities that use natural gas produced in Pennsylvania. 7 Democrats even co-sponsored this bill, despite it being strongly opposed by environmental and health advocates across the state. 

  • Also in 2020,16 House Democrats voted for SB790, which would have rolled back regulations for fracking companies, allowing oil and gas well operators to replace contaminated drinking water with a source that does not meet safe drinking water standards. 
  • And the previous year, 5 House Democrats voted for HB509, which would have literally allowed industries to pick their own third parties to review and approve their permits, removing objectivity from the process and potentially leading to environmentally harmful projects.

In a state where fracking is likely causing clusters of rare cancer and failing to translate to investment in rural communities -- and especially when workers should be preparing for futures in the clean energy transition -- Pennsylvanians deserve better. 

Why would Pennsylvania Democrats stand with polluters instead of people? Again, political contributions may be a clue: PA Dems have accepted at least $300,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas since 2018, and over $2.5 million since the late 90s. 

Too many Democrats in Pennsylvania are on the wrong side of history -- bailing out the destructive fracking industry and waiving the rule of law to give polluters free reign. 

West Virginia

Like Pennsylvania, West Virginia is known as a fossil fuel state. But it won’t be that way forever, and legislators are failing to fight for a successful and equitable transition to a clean energy economy for West Virginia workers. The average Climate Cabinet Score of a West Virginia Democrat is a meager 58 - with a glaring 43% of Democrats scoring below 50.

This chart shows the breakdown of West Virginia legislators' climate scores. 0 is on the left, and 100 is on the right. Red shows Republican legislators and blue shows Democrats. Grey is no-data.

In West Virginia, too many Democrats are voting not only to bail out failing fossil fuel industries, but also to block the expansion of wind and solar which could create jobs and drive investment in rural communities:

  • In 2020, 6 Senate Democrats and 28 House Democrats voted for the “Downstream Natural Gas Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit,” a subsidy to the gas industry that is actively wrecking our climate. 

  • Then, 35 House Democrats turned around and voted against SB583, a bill that created a solar program which could grow the state’s installed solar by 40 times. 

Especially in oil, gas, and coal-producing states, it’s clear that Republicans aren’t the only ones blocking climate progress. We can’t afford to look the other way and give Democrats a pass. 

Florida 

The average score of a Democrat in Florida is 79 -- and 44% of Florida Democrats come in with scores below 80. Notably, the average score for a Florida Republican is less than 1 -- with only 11 of the 101 Florida Republicans scoring higher than 0. But the fact that Florida Republicans are exceptionally bad is not an excuse for Democrats. Rather, it should be greater cause for Democrats to unify in opposition to the outrageous bills Republicans are introducing. 

For example: 

This chart shows the breakdown of Floridaa legislators' climate scores. 0 is on the left, and 100 is on the right. Red shows Republican legislators and blue shows Democrats. Grey is no-data.

  • This year, HB919 blocks municipalities' efforts to advance the clean energy transition by preventing cities from banning natural gas in new buildings - with the threat of legal action if they begin moving away from the use of fracked gas. 5 Democrats in the House and 4 in the Senate voted for this damaging bill. 

  • Many Democrats also voted for HB836, a similar attempt to pre-empt electrification of the transportation sector, which is also critical for moving away from fossil fuels and cleaning up air pollution in communities. (4 House and 2 Senate Democrats voted for this bill). 

Florida Democrats can’t even agree on allowing local governments to restrict the use of plastic straws. In 2019,19 Democrats in the House and 3 in the Senate voted to strip cities of this authority -- setting a dangerous precedent of state preemption over local control, which the legislature has continued to use to impede climate action. 


Beyond floor votes - a look behind the scenes 

Of course, by nature, any scorecard simplifies the legislative process. Legislators are not simple yes/no voting machines, but have incredible agency to propose and fight for meaningful legislation. Much of that work happens behind the scenes, affecting which bills even make it to the floor to be voted upon. 

For example, in New York, despite controlling both chambers, Democrats have failed to pass bold climate legislation needed to meet targets set by the Community Leadership and Climate Protection Act of 2019 -- largely due to behind-the-scenes power dynamics and fossil fuel entanglement. 

In a future iteration of the Climate Cabinet Score, we’re exploring ways to incorporate other markers of legislative ambition such as bill sponsorship and committee votes in order to show more variation within parties. 

We need to hold Democrats accountable

We can’t tackle the climate crisis without state leadership. States have massive power to advance the clean energy transition, fight for climate and environmental justice, and ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers. Or, they can lock us into a destructive, extractive economy. 

Democrats are overwhelmingly better than Republicans when it comes to voting for and passing climate action -- and we should back up the Democrats leading the charge. But we must also recognize that many Democrats need to step up. We need our state legislators out front introducing bold climate policy, getting it passed, and fighting for our lives.

The Climate Cabinet Scorecard shows you exactly which state legislators are voting for clean air, clean energy jobs, and our future and which ones are holding us back. We hope you’ll use this scorecard to hold your legislators accountable -- Republicans and Democrats alike.

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*As a reminder, it’s misleading to compare scores across states, given the widely varying political circumstances and ambition of bills. In Texas, for example, no legislators received a score of 0 whereas in Florida, 91 legislators did. This doesn’t mean that the Florida legislature is necessarily “worse” - it just means the bills voted on were different, and scores should be considered within the context of each state. You can read more about the importance of state-specific context here.

All images here are credited to Will Jarrett. Explore more of his data visualizations here: https://willjarrettdata.github.io/state-environmental-scores/